U-M announces plans for facility to test automated vehicles


The Board of Regents on Friday approved plans to proceed with the design of a unique environment for testing connected and automated vehicles.

The facility, which simulates a dynamic urban environment, is a critical element of a joint project with industry and government to develop and implement an entire system of connected and automated vehicles on the streets of southeastern Michigan by 2021.

“There have been a host of innovations in this arena in recent years, but one of the major challenges ahead is to ensure that these vehicles can perform safely and reliably in a complex urban setting,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center, which is leading the initiative.

“Testing a workable system of such technologies in a realistic off-road environment is an essential step before a significant number of vehicles can be safely implemented on actual roadways.”

Occupying 30 acres of the university’s North Campus Research Complex, the novel test environment will include approximately three lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights and obstacles such as construction barriers.

Artist’s conception of a novel test facility that U-M researchers will use to help usher in a new era of connected and automated vehicles. Drawing by Steve Maggio, The Maggio Line​.

Current plans call for the facility be completed by the fall of 2014 at a cost of about $6.5 million.

“Connected and automated vehicles provide a new platform for safety improvements, better traffic movement, emissions reduction, energy conservation, and maximized transportation accessibility,” Sweatman said. “The new facility will help the MTC accelerate and integrate innovations that will lead to a commercially viable automated mobility ‘system’ that will fundamentally transform mobility in our society.”

According to Stephen Forrest, vice president for research, the scope of the challenge goes far beyond technology.

“Developing and implementing a realistic approach to moving both people and freight requires that we integrate scientific, technical, economic, social and policy considerations,” he said. “The MTC will convene the required expertise from across campus as well as from industry and government to pave the way for the future.”

Forrest said the initiative holds great promise for innovation and change.

“The most exciting prospect is the enormous economic and technological opportunity MTC offers to our region and the U.S. by literally reinventing the automobile more than a century after its first introduction on our nation’s roadways,” he said.

Launched last spring, the MTC builds on U-M’s broad base of expertise and experience working with government and industry on transportation research over the years.

With $25 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, U-M recently implemented the world’s largest on-road, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connected vehicle model deployment in Ann Arbor, with more than 3,000 users. This project, which includes several industry participants, is providing data to inform future policy decisions by the federal Transportation Department.

Other activities underway in the region also are laying the foundation for the new mobility system. For example, the Michigan Department of Transportation is installing a unique “smart” infrastructure across Southeastern Michigan. And the region’s industrial powerhouse of automotive research and development is deeply engaged in automating vehicles for use by consumers and businesses.

Funding for the new research facility will be provided by the College of Engineering, the Office of Research, the U-M Transportation Research Institute, the U-M Energy Institute, and the Office of the Provost, in partnership with the state Transportation Department. 



  1. Anne Chadwick
    on October 29, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Very interesting and exciting project. Will this project create a need for jobs at entry level (data collection) or otherwise for young college students?

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